Saturday, April 26, 2014

The ultimate free lunch

By Mathew Goldstein

According to the theory of cosmic inflation, our universe started from almost nothing, borrowing the required positive energy from a growing, negative energy, gravitational field as a result of the large negative pressure of the tiny, initial, inflating substance.  In a fraction of a second (less than about 10^-35 seconds) our universe doubled in size about 260 times.  Then this period of "Big Bang" inflation ended.

One of the predictions of inflation is that the cosmic microwave background radiation will contain an imprint of gravitational waves.  This is because quantum fluctuations during inflation will generate gravitational waves. To celebrate the recent discovery of the predicted cosmic microwave background B-mode polarization (and to promote his new book), Max Tegmark has placed the inflation chapter of his new book,  Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, on the internet.  This is the up to date version of the first part of the first chapter of the obsolete book commonly referred to as the bible, with inflation now assuming the role formerly attributed to God, and it is free, so take a look.  It explains why the Big Bang only makes sense if inflation is true, that inflation makes multiple predictions which have been demonstrated to be true, and the implications of inflation for cosmology (inflation is eternal, therefore we live in a multiverse).

Adam Gopnick's errors on the nature of skepticism, rationalism, and humanism

The Barefoot Bum blog recently published a short article The nature of skepticism and humanism that accurately criticizes Adam Gopnick's "otherwise excellent piece, Bigger than Phil: When did faith start to fade?, on the failings of many 'Sophisticated Theologians'" for its mistaken definition of rationalism and for its "insulting" depiction of humanism that is "without foundation." The Barefoot Bum's explanation for the role of intuition and how we all rely on intuition, but skeptical rationalists are more consistent in giving higher precedence to reason, and his characterization of humanists as people who dispense with transcendentalism, is very good. This is worth reading. 

 Jerry Coyne similarly criticizes Adam Gopnick for being "so eager to take the middle ground that he conflates the human emotions of atheists with the delusions of religious believers—and so sees a convergence of the twain" on his Why Evolution is True blog Adam Gopnik on atheism in the New Yorker. This strained "middle ground" journalism is common, particular when the topic is atheism versus theism. One common strategy is to argue that atheists are similar to religious fundamentalists and both are wrong for the same reasons. Adam Gopnick takes a more subtle approach to arguing that atheism is deficient, but his argument is no less rooted in false stereotype and conceptual confusion.